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AFRL partners with University of New Mexico on directed energy center

10 Nov 2021

To create a hub of expertise in high-power, fiber laser research, and to develop quality optical fibers.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate is partnering with The University of New Mexico (UNM) to establish a new center for directed energy studies, a congressionally-funded endeavor.

The Directed Energy Center will be based at UNM and jointly managed by UNM’s School of Engineering and Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM). AFRL is described as the nation’s center of excellence for the development of directed energy technologies and the Lab will oversee the founding of the center as well as the research taking place at UNM.

“We are extremely pleased to partner with UNM and to grow New Mexico’s experts in the field of directed energy,” commented Dr. Kelly Hammett, director of the AFRL Directed Energy Directorate. “Our nation will be better equipped to move forward in this critical technology as a result of this partnership.”

Directed energy technologies in development at AFRL include lasers and high-power electromagnetics directed toward a target to achieve a desired result, with applications in a variety of areas that are vital to national security.

Multi-kilowatt lasers

“One of the important aspects of using DE weapons systems is that they are much less costly than traditional kinetic systems and result in less collateral damage,” Hammett said. “We lead the world in these systems, but developing a robust pipeline of experts in the field is critical to maintaining our advantage.”

Senior researchers, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students will advance the modeling, design, and fabrication of fiber lasers and amplifiers to more than one kilowatt for conventional designs and near kilowatt for radiation-balanced and unconventional wavelengths. The center will create a hub of expertise in high-power, fiber laser research, and the fiber draw tower at the center will create the highest-quality fibers for high-power laser operation at various wavelengths.

Edl Schamiloglu, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UNM, will lead the Directed Energy Center. He has led UNM’s research efforts in microwaves and high-power electronics for the last few decades and also serves as associate dean for research and innovation in the School of Engineering. Ganesh Balakrishnan, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will serve as associate director of the center.

Lasers and microwaves

“The Directed Energy Center will make UNM one of only a handful of universities in the country with a center dedicated to that type of research and the only one that has expertise in both lasers and microwaves,” he said. “Having the partnership of AFRL scientists and engineers will mean our students and faculty will have access to the highest level of expertise and world-class facilities.”

Arash Mafi, professor of physics at UNM and director of the Center for High Technology Materials at the time the proposal was submitted, is principal investigator, and Schamiloglu and Balakrishnan are co-PIs on the recent $2.4 million, four-year cooperative agreement through AFRL called, “Directed Energy Center for Lasers and Microwaves.”

The center will eventually be located in a new facility in the planning stages in UNM’s south campus S&T park, which is expected to be operational by 2025.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace forces.

With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.

The Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) one of 10 University-level research centers at UNM and is focused on photonics, microelectronics, nanoscale materials and devices, and their applications. The School of Engineering, founded in 1906, is comprised of six academic departments and is a major economic driver of the University and the state, generating $34.9 million in research expenditures in FY 2021.

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